The draft picture is complicated
By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(April 13, 2004) -- For the longest time, the NFL was known as the league of little-to-no trades, but trading during the draft is back in style. Why has the philosophy about trading changed? Why are there close to 30 trades recorded in this draft from transactions last year, and why will there surely be more action this year?
Most teams usually make "inquiries" as creatures of habit, but this year there seems to be a lot more potential deals with a realistic chance of them getting done. But don't expect to hear too much about trades until Draft Day itself. Here are the forces at work pushing along the new appetite for draft trading:
1. The ever-present salary cap has driven the concept of "need" over the "best available athlete" once and for all. As one college scouting director said to me at the Mike Williams workout, "It's so far from the truth to think teams are taking the best available athlete anymore. It just isn't that way. What happens these days is teams tweak their draft board so players they need have a high enough grade to be picked when they go." He said to name a team that can avoid the need for a better player and he'll show you a coach who is getting fired next year. That sure sounded like the case in Buffalo last year when Willis McGahee was taken in the first round when a top-flight receiver could have helped Gregg Williams save his job.
2. So many coaches that were fired have moved on to other teams, so there is a strong familiarity among these professionals, and trade talk between former staff members is easy.
The number of head coaches with final say in all personnel matters has definitely increased trade activity. For example, Denver's Mike Shanahan can make a trade and isn't afraid to do it. Coaches have a much shorter view of getting business done and seem much more at ease pulling the trigger.
3. The very helpful trade chart that was developed a few years ago is now in the possession of every team. It clearly states to both sides in a trade conversation what is fair and when both teams feel good about a trade. I obtained a copy of last year's value chart for each draft spot. The top pick in the first round had a value of 3,000. The fourth pick in the first round had a value of 2,200. In order to move up, according to the chart, the fourth team had to come up with 800 more. That could be accomplished by throwing in this year's second-round pick and next year's third-round pick. The chart presents the logic, and believe me, that's a big help.
4. There are more owners who love to get involved in the draft process and seem to enjoy the action in the trading business. Dallas' Jerry Jones did a lot of it at one time. Washington's Dan Snyder is in love with draft trading, and Randy Lerner out in Cleveland seems to be the type of owner who may also be interested.
5. All the teams that traded away picks in the draft last year are scrambling to regain those picks. This is a good draft for second- and third-round picks, and I spoke with one team that wants their pick back in the worst way. So you could say trading perpetuates trading.
6. This year there is enough quarterback talent in the draft with three potential franchise quarterbacks and two potential starters, according to one prominent offensive coordinator who is an expert at the quarterback position. Teams will probably move to get these guys. True, the last Super Bowl featured a sixth-round QB and one that was a free agent, but ask any general manager what the cornerstone of the franchise is and they'll say it's the quarterback.
Upward pressure from the QB position
The closer we get to the draft, the more you will start to hear about what teams are willing to do to get one of these signal-callers. The upward pressure from the quarterback position is in full swing. Will the Chargers take Eli Manning with the first pick? Will the Giants move up to get him? Is there another team looking to trump the Giants' efforts?
As soon as Manning goes, all efforts will turn to Ben Roethlisberger. He could easily go at the second spot, but no later than fourth. What has transpired with Philip Rivers recently is that most teams feel they have to get ahead of Pittsburgh at No. 11. J.P. Losman was predicted to be a second-round pick, but now he seems to be slated for the bottom of the first round where Rivers used to be. And the ripple effect seems to reach all the way to Matt Schaub. He was perceived as a late third-round pick, but he could now move into the late second round.
One quarterback coach described Schaub as "the guy most like Tom Brady, but that doesn't mean he falls to the sixth round because of what Brady has done." This type of player is getting hot.
Every team in the first round is searching for the probable guy who will be there when they select. Pay close attention to the 20 visits teams are entitled to use to bring candidates into their facility this month. Sometimes a few of them are a smoke screen, but in most cases they are serious. For example, the Eagles pick 28th, but they should be able to figure on one of the following being there to help their team: Center Jake Grove from Virginia Tech, linebacker Karlos Dansby from Auburn, guard Justin Smiley from Alabama or a wide receiver like Lee Evans from Wisconsin.
What makes things intriguing for the Eagles, and every team for that matter, is if your draft spot becomes "hot" because some team thinks they need to get there to get the player they want. If the player you want can be had a little later, then things get real hot. For example, Houston doesn't need Rivers, but with Pittsburgh right behind them they will get a number of calls to trade out. Texans GM Charley Casserly loves to work the draft and trades are a big part of his strategy. He couldn't be happier now that Rivers is picking up steam.
When Lerner claimed the Browns are very interested in a quarterback at the seventh spot, most NFL people felt he was just putting a for-sale sign on the pick for anyone who wanted Rivers. Cleveland goes before Houston. And that makes the Eagles pick at No. 28 a possible hot spot for Losman. As a rule, the traditional hot spots are the top picks in later rounds.
When I was at the Jets, I never got more phone calls than when we had the top pick in the second or fourth round. One GM once offered me his first-round pick at No. 31 and a seventh-rounder to move down. The top pick in the fourth round is the first pick of the second day, and after a night to regroup, a lot of teams want this spot. Right now, the hot spots seem to be No. 1 for Manning, No. 2 for Robert Gallery or Roethlisberger and anywhere from Nos. 6-9 for Rivers, but the next few days will add another hot spot or two.
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